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Executive Summary for April 18th

We review the latest developments related to refugee issues, including Pope Francis’ decision to offer a home to 12 refugees in the Vatican, deteriorating conditions for Palestinians at Yarmouk camp near Damascus and how a report found that E.U. neglect led to loss of life in the Mediterranean.

Published on April 18, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

As ‘Gesture of Welcome,’ Pope Francis Finds Home for 12 Muslim Refugees in the Vatican

Pope Francis visited the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday, stopping at the Moria refugee camp and returning to the Vatican with 12 Muslim refugees aboard the papal plane, the New York Times reports.

“The pope has desired to make a gesture of welcome regarding refugees,” the Vatican told the newspaper in a statement. Those selected to begin a new life in Italy are from three Syrian families whose homes were destroyed in the conflict. All Muslim, they spent their first night at a Catholic charity in Rome. Six of them are children.

“I didn’t choose between Christians and Muslims, these three families had their papers in order and it was possible to do,” the pope told Italian newspaper La Stampa. “There were two Christian families whose papers were not in order … there are no privileges here, everyone is a child of God.”

ABC News called the move “an incredible act of kindness,” while the Guardian reported on the pope’s meeting with U.S. presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders – who also visited Lesbos at the weekend – calling the pair “unlikely allies in the fight for equality.”

Report: E.U. Neglect Led to Loss of Life in the Mediterranean

E.U. countries are guilty of “killing by neglect” after scaling back boat rescue operations in the Mediterranean, according to a report authored by researchers from British universities.

According to the report, “Death by Rescue: The Lethal Effects of the E.U.’s Policies of Non-Assistance at Sea,” more than 1,500 refugees died attempting to cross the Mediterranean after rescue operations were scaled back in October 2014. The Italian-led Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation ended that month, and was replaced by Triton, which focused instead on deterrent measures.

As Sky News reports, a similar number of refugees crossed the Mediterranean in early 2015 as in early 2014, but death rates rose significantly: 60 refugees died at sea in the first four months of 2014, compared to 1,687 in the first four months of 2015.

Charles Heller, coauthor of the report and an academic at Goldsmiths, University of London, told the Press Association that he would “argue that this was a case of institutionalized wilful neglect, and that European policymakers and [border agency] Frontex have made themselves guilty of killing by omission.”

Palestinian Refugees Face Starvation as Conditions Deteriorate in Syria’s Yarmouk

Thousands of Palestinian refugees in Syria’s Yarmouk camp, near Damascus, face hunger and starvation after going without food and water for more than a week amid increased fighting, according to a U.N. agency.

Civilians in Yarmouk are facing starvation and dehydration alongside the heightened risks of serious injury and death from the armed conflict,” said Chris Gunness, spokesperson for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). “Whatever supplies of food and water they had have long been exhausted,” he added.

As the Guardian reports, Yarmouk camp is an urban neighborhood that was once home to 150,000 Palestinians. Situated 5 miles (8km) from Damascus, it was founded in 1957 – as a refuge for Palestinian refugees, who lived alongside some 650,000 Syrians – and it transitioned from canvas to solid housing soon after.

Yarmouk has since been caught between government shelling, and fighting between ISIS and the al-Nusra Front. Its population now hovers at around 18,000. In an earlier article, the Guardian called Yarmouk “a refugee camp designed as a safe haven for the Palestinian diaspora that had become the worst place on earth.”

UNRWA says it will deliver humanitarian aid to Yarmouk as soon as the situation allows access.

Recommended Reads

Top image: Pope Francis visits the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday April 16, 2016. (Osservatore Romano/Pool photo via AP)

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